WHERE JESUS GOES
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24
We are not like Jesus!
St. Luke teaches us in today's Gospel that the Lord single-mindedly set His face towards Jerusalem knowing what awaited Him there, knowing that He would endure tribulation such the world had never known, nor ever would again. Jesus was about to face judgment for the sins of the world. Jesus was about to right all that we had made wrong and to give eternal life to all who believe; but first there was the cross because death must always precede resurrection.
We are not like Jesus. He was single-minded, dedicated only to God, devoted only to his mission of salvation for the world and nothing else. We, on the other hand, are of two minds, but that may not be so bad. Before baptism we are single-minded, but not in a good way. Our only concern is the flesh with all of its passions and desires. There is nothing in us that is pure, nothing holy. We love neither God nor our neighbor, but only ourselves because the mind we are born with is at war with God. It is neither willing nor able to submit to His will, but leads us, instead, down the broad and easy path to destruction.
The fact that we are of two minds means that, beside the Old Man, we have a New Man in us too. That man is Christ. In baptism we are dressed in Him, clothed in His righteousness which means that we can say, along with St. Paul, that we "belong to Christ Jesus," and nothing is better than that. With such a Lord as this neither the tribulations of life, nor the pains of death can separate us from the love of God. Nothing can shake our confidence.
If we were to name a theme for this Sunday, based on the readings, it would be that we should follow Jesus single-mindedly. When we hear about Elisha who at first held back, and about the people Jesus met on His journey to Jerusalem who had too many agendas, the lesson is not hard to figure out. So it would seem, but if you were listening to this message on so-called Christian radio, or visiting your local mega-church, neither of which is recommended, things would sound very different. You would be treated to a gentle scolding because you don't love Jesus as you should, followed by a pep talk so that you would, followed by a newly discovered formula, which if only you will put into practice, then you will become a better Christian starting today! But such talk would leave you off worse than it found you because we don't need to learn how to follow Jesus, any Sunday School child could tell you that. What we need is the power to do it, and that comes from the Gospel, not the Law. The actual message today, then, is not a renewed effort to reform our lives. That is part of the program since faith without works is dead, being alone, but it is the cart, not the horse, the fruit, not the tree. The question is not how to follow Jesus, but rather where we follow Him to.
The answer? To death and resurrection!
This first happens for us in baptism where we sacramentally die and are raised to new life never to die again. Jesus says: whoever believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. What happens to us sacramentally in baptism is not a charade. The fresh life we receive therein is lived out day by day as we struggle to crucify the flesh, as we fight the good fight of faith, but win or lose, because the flesh is so easily influenced by the world, and because even our righteousness is like filthy rags, our standard posture before God must be that of humble repentance. We should confess our sins to God in private each day and in the church each Sunday, but we do not stop there. The absolution spoken once in baptism and repeated by the pastor must ring in our ears at all times, for it is none other than the Lord's absolution, His pardon, His amnesty, His exoneration and justification for us in the highest court that there is.
We follow Him in the Eucharist as well. In it we remember the Lord's death and resurrection, but we do much more than merely recall. We also participate in them, for we are not receiving the flesh and blood of a dead man in the sacrament, but rather living and life-giving flesh of the resurrected, reigning, returning Lord of Glory, Who lives and reigns for all eternity. Here He graciously gives us a present taste of the future blessings we will know and possess in heaven. His indestructible life is factually shared with us under the forms of bread and wine, and though we can surely not comprehend now what we are getting, we can believe and we can still exclaim with the Psalmist: Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.
Finally we will all follow our Lord into bodily death and bodily resurrection. Do not ever forget those golden words, dear Christians: I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, for they are talking about you! Whether you are young or old, you should always be preparing for that day because you never know when it may come. As long as you think it is far off, you will not worry about it much, but still you can prepare. When aging, illness or danger bring it close then you should remember that Jesus never asks you to go where He has not first gone, or to do what He has not first done. When that day finally arrives, when we close our eyes on earth and open them wide in heaven, then we will be as single-minded as Jesus. With sinful nature a thing of the past, and nothing but the New Man remaining with his glorified body, we will happily follow Jesus into a world without end. This is God's gift to us, eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras